This is a common question I see being asked by new Traeger owners or people considering buying a Traeger. Having owned a Traeger for about ten years now, I can tell you from my experience everything that affects the grills temperature.
How hot can a Traeger grill get? Traeger grills have their highest temperature setting calibrated at about 450F, but the actual temperature reached while grilling varies by ambient temperature and quality, dryness, and hardwood blend of the pellets. Most often, a Traeger grill on HIGH runs from a range of 350F to 450F.
How a Pellet Grill Maintains Temperature
Wood pellet grills all have a hopper for wood pellets. At the bottom of the hopper, the pellets drop into a motor-driven auger that precisely feeds the pellets into the fire pot for burning. The amount of pellets consumed by the fire and amount of air flow determines the grilling temperature. Air flow (through the electronically controlled induction fan) and the auger activation are both precisely manipulated by the grill controller.
With feedback from a temperature probe inside the grill, the controller turns the auger on for a bit of time, and turns it off for a period of time. This is called the duty cycle. For example, if you set your Traeger to 150 degrees F for smoking, it might turn on the auger for 10 seconds, and turn it off for 70 or 80 seconds. Duty cycles are typically stated as a percentage of the time the auger is actually running. A duty cycle of 50% is off half the time. A duty cycle of 100% is on all the time.
Each temperature setting on your Traeger has a different duty cycle. That said, the ON time of the auger is always the same, and it’s the OFF time of the auger that is variable. Lower temperatures have longer OFF times, and higher temperatures have shorter OFF times.
When you program the grill controller for a set temperature, the controller ignites the pellets and begins a heat-up process to the predetermined temperature. Once it reaches that temperature, the controller takes input from a temperature probe inside the grill, and computes a duty cycle–through trial and error via feedback–to maintain that temperature.
The other significant factor managed by the grill that determines grilling temperature is air flow over the fire pot. Increasing the amount of oxygen the fire gets can cause the fire to burn hotter (assuming there is enough fuel). Air flow is managed by the induction fan. In older wood pellet grills, my Traeger included, the induction fan runs continuously once the temperature is set. But pellet grill manufacturers have raised the bar, by developing more advanced algorithms for their controllers, and some newer grills have intermittent fans that run and are controlled separately from the auger. These grills can feed oxygen to the fire only when it’s necessary.
Auger activation and air flow are the primary factors governing grill temperature, but they are not the only significant factors. Factors outside the grill can adversely affect the grilling temperature as well.
Wood Pellet Quality Affects Grill Temperature
Since wood pellets are providing the heat for the grill, how well they are made is a huge factor for how hot your grill can get. The compaction or compression of the pellet can make a big difference. Pellets that are not compacted well in manufacturing produce lower temperatures in the fire pot.
You can tell poorly compacted pellets by looking in the bottom bag. There should only be a small amount of sawdust. If there is a ridiculous amount of sawdust at the bottom, like two handfuls or more, the pellets are most likely not compacted well, and maybe you should try another brand.
Another way to tell poor pellets (without using up a whole bag) is to see if the pellets crumble in your hand. Highly compacted pellets won’t disintegrate into smaller pieces when you handle them.
For a Hot Grill, Keep Your Pellets Dry!
Dampness in your wood pellets can severely affect the grill temperature. It’s like burning wet wood in a campfire. The fire decreases in size and heat output. This is not really a pellet quality problem because it can happen to even high quality pellets. It’s a matter of proper storage.
I always store my pellets inside, and sealed. Keeping them out of the rain is obvious. But also large swings in temperature from mid-day to early morning can cause humidity in the air to condense out and be absorbed into your pellets. If your extra pellets are sitting around for awhile, and your summers a humid like they are in the US Great Lakes region, with varying temperatures from day to night, consider investing in a pellet storage container.
Ambient Air Temperature Can Adversely Affect Grilling Temps
I haven’t noticed much difference grilling at 70 degrees F versus 90 degrees F. What I am talking about here is grilling in the winter. In Michigan, where I am located, the ambient air temperature for many months can be below freezing, and as low as 10 degrees F. (It can get a lot colder too, but you won’t catch me out grilling on those days!)
The cold ambient air temperature sucks heat from the grill like a sponge sucks up water. The grill gets less hot, even with the food enclosed, and grilling can take a lot longer as a result. The solution to this problem is to use a grill blanket.
A grill blanket is an insulated wrap for your grill. It’s a typical accessory available from your grill manufacturer. Traeger has one, and that’s the one I use. You could probably roll your own yourself, if you don’t mind it looking unprofessional to save a few bucks.
Can I Sear on a Traeger Grill?
Searing means to char or brand a surface with high heat. The process of searing when grilling meat seals in the natural flavors. The proteins on the outside of the meat browns and improves the flavor as well.
So, is the HIGH setting enough to sear on Traeger grill? Technically, Traeger says you need only 350 degrees F to sear, although they do admit that 450 degrees is the best searing temperature, which is the max temperature calibration on the HIGH setting.
To get a good sear, make sure you don’t have any of the issues mentioned earlier in this article that may affect your grilling temperature. Next, follow these tips:
- Preheat the grill on HIGH, and wait until the temperature reaches a steady-state. This can take awhile. A lot longer than a propane grill. Allow about 20-30 minutes.
- Place your meat at the back of grill. This is typically the hottest spot on a Traeger. At least it is for me. If you have a different area that food seems to cook quicker, use that spot to sear your meat.
- Close the lid immediately. Too much heat will escape if you leave the lid open, forcing your grill to bring the grilling temperature back up.
One pro tip is to use a cast iron grate for searing. Cast iron distributes heat evenly and well. It can provide a better sear.